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Papal Names

Papal Names
Papal names range from the totally normal (Paul, Alexander) to the wild and extravagant (ever met a Telesphorus?). Popes traditionally choose a new regnal name upon election — one of a saint or that of a previous pope. However, this hasn’t always been the case. The 56th pope, John II, was the first to not use his given name. It was Mercurius, after Mercury — a pagan god. Ever since, most popes have gone by a new name.

Along with John and Alexander, other papal names in the US Top 250 include Adrian, Felix, Leo, Marcus, Nicholas, Theodore, Victor, and Zachary. The most common name among popes is John, which has been used 23 times, followed by Benedict and Gregory at 16 each.

The selection of Pope Francis I has added a new name to the list of papal names, which began in the year 32 with St. Peter. Pope Francis is the first pope to choose a unique regnal name since Pope Lando in the year 913. Here are some other names of popes that are still usable today — many of them worn by multiple bearers.

TheodoreHeart

  • Origin:

    Greek
  • Meaning:

    "gift of God"
  • Description:

    Theodore is a derivative of the Latin Theodorus, a variation of the Greek name Theodōros. The components are from the Greek words theos, meaning "God," and dōron, meaning "gift," giving Theodore the meaning "God-given" or "gift of God." Names with similar origins include Theodora, Dorothy, and Dorothea.

FelixHeart

  • Origin:

    Latin
  • Meaning:

    "happy, fortunate"
  • Description:

    Felix was originally a Roman surname but was adopted as a nickname by the ancient Roman Sulla, who believed that he was especially blessed with luck by the gods. It is the name of four popes and sixty-seven saints; in the Bible, Felix is a Roman procurator of Judea.

LeoHeart

  • Origin:

    Latin
  • Meaning:

    "lion"
  • Description:

    Leo was derived from the Latin leo, meaning “lion.” Thirteen popes have carried the name, including St. Leo the Great. In Germanic languages, Leo has historically been used as a nickname for names including Leon and Leopold. In Latinate languages, Leonardo is considered a full form for Leo.

AlexanderHeart

  • Origin:

    Greek
  • Meaning:

    "defending men"
  • Description:

    Alexander is derived from the Greek name Aléxandros, composed of the elements aléxein, meaning “to defend,” and aner, meaning “man.” According to Greek legend, the first Alexander was Paris, who was given the nickname Alexander by the shepherds whose flocks he defended against robbers. He was followed by Alexander the Great, aka Alexander III, who conquered much of Asia.

ZacharyHeart

  • Origin:

    Hebrew
  • Meaning:

    "the Lord has remembered"
  • Description:

    Zachary is the English variation of Zacharias, which itself is derived from the Hebrew name Zechariah. The name Zachary is attached to eight different people in the Bible, the most prominent being the father of John the Baptist, and it's also presidential, via 12th president Zachary Taylor. Zackery is an alternate spelling, and nicknames include Zack, Zach, Zac, and Zak.

LuciusHeart

  • Origin:

    Latin
  • Meaning:

    "light"
  • Description:

    Lucius is an old Roman clan name that has lots of religious and literary resonance, yet is still vital today. It was the name of three popes, appears in several Shakespeare plays, and, like all the names beginning with 'luc' relates to the Latin word for light.It was one of a limited number of forenames used in ancient Rome.

LinusHeart

  • Origin:

    Greek
  • Meaning:

    "flax"
  • Description:

    Can Linus lose its metaphorical security blanket and move from the Peanuts page onto the birth certificate? We think it has enough charm and other positive elements going for it for the answer to be yes.

PeterHeart

  • Origin:

    Greek
  • Meaning:

    "rock"
  • Description:

    Peter is derived from the Greek Petros, meaning “rock” or “stone.” One of the most important figures in the Christian hagiography is Saint Peter, keeper of the Gates of Heaven. Born Simon bar Jonah, he was given the nickname Peter by Jesus, to signify that he would be the rock on which Christ would build Christianity. Centuries later, there was Peter the Great, the czar who developed Russia as a major European power.

CaiusHeart

  • Origin:

    Latin
  • Meaning:

    "rejoice"
  • Description:

    Caius is classical and serious but also has a simple, joyful quality. There was a third century pope named Caius, as well as an early Christian writer, several Shakespearean characters, and a Twilight vampire. We would pronounce the name to rhyme with eye-us though at Cambridge University in England, where it's the name of a college, it's pronounced keys. Caius is currently Number 164 on Nameberry.

NicholasHeart

  • Origin:

    Greek
  • Meaning:

    "people of victory"
  • Description:

    Nicholas is derived from the Greek Nikolaos, a name that evolved from the components nikē, meaning “victory”, and laos, “people.” It shares origins with Nike, the name of the Greek goddess of victory. Nicholas is also a New Testament name that is well-used in literature, such as in Dickens's Nicholas Nickleby.

FrancisHeart

  • Origin:

    Latin
  • Meaning:

    "Frenchman or free man"
  • Description:

    Since this was the name chosen by the current Roman Catholic pope, Francis has come into the spotlight.

VictorHeart

  • Origin:

    Latin
  • Meaning:

    "conqueror"
  • Description:

    Victor is one of the earliest Christian names, borne (as Vittorio) by several saints and popes, symbolizing Christ's victory over death. It has been quietly in the Top 200 since 1880, but just recently has taken on a cool edge by fashionable parents in London and seems ripe for a similar reevaluation here too.

JohnHeart

  • Origin:

    Hebrew
  • Meaning:

    "God is gracious"
  • Description:

    John is an English derivative of the Hebrew name Yochanan via the Latin name Iohannes, itself coming from the Greek Ioannes. John was a key name in early Christianity, borne by John the Baptist, John the Apostle and John the Evangelist, plus 84 saints and 23 popes, as well as kings and countless other illustrious notables. Contrary to popular belief, the names John and Jonathan are unrelated, the latter being an elaboration of Nathan.

BenedictHeart

  • Origin:

    Latin
  • Meaning:

    "blessed"
  • Description:

    Parents who like Ben and Benjamin but find those forms too popular sometimes consider Benedict as a more distinctive choice. Unlike the Old Testament Benjamin, Benedict is the name of the saint who formed the Benedictine Order and of fifteen popes,including a recent one.

AdrianHeart

  • Origin:

    Latin
  • Meaning:

    "man of Adria"
  • Description:

    Adrian is derived from Hadrianus, a Roman family name meaning “from Hadria.” There were two Roman towns called Hadria, the first in Northern Italy, modern day Adria, and the second in Central Italy, known today as Atri. The name of the Adriatic Sea comes from the same origins as Adrian.

MarcusHeart

  • Origin:

    Latin
  • Meaning:

    "warlike"
  • Description:

    Though ancient, Marcus now sounds more current than Mark, in tune with today's trend towards us-ending Latinate names.

ClementHeart

  • Origin:

    Latin
  • Meaning:

    "mild, merciful"
  • Description:

    Clement, the name of fourteen popes and several saints, has a pleasantly, positive, slightly antiquated feel, like the phrase "clement weather."

JuliusHeart

  • Origin:

    Latin
  • Meaning:

    "youthful, downy-bearded"
  • Description:

    Immortal through its association with the ancient Caesar (it was his clan name), Julius may still lag behind Julian, but is definitely starting to make a comeback, and in fact feels more cutting edge, in line with the current trend for Latin -us endings.

ValentineHeart

  • Origin:

    Latin
  • Meaning:

    "strength, health"
  • Description:

    Valentine is an attractive Shakespearean name with romantic associations, but those very ties to the saint and the sentimental holiday have sent it into a decline, one which we think may be about to turn around.

PaulHeart

  • Origin:

    Latin
  • Meaning:

    "small"
  • Description:

    To the thousands of girls who screamed the name of their favorite Beatle in the 1960s, the boys' name Paul had a thrillingly unique image, but to the rest of the world, then and now, it's a name that's so simple and yet so widely diffuse that it could belong to almost anyone. Paul is an ancient name for boys -- popular in Roman and medieval times -- that's not very fashionable now, which can work in its favor, scarcity balancing simplicity.